Northwest began its state-title defense in impressive fashion.
Despite several potential distractions that accompanied the Vikings’ season opener, Class B No. 1-rated (Omaha World-Herald) Northwest maintained its focus throughout during a 25-8, 25-18, 25-8 home-court victory over Central Conference opponent Crete on Thursday night.
Before playing their first match since winning the Class B state tournament championship last November in Grand Island’s Heartland Events Center, Northwest had an extended pre-match introduction set to music. A large home crowd also turned out to get their first look at the Vikings.
"We have a lot of distractions and we’ve had them for a long time, so the kids are kind of just used to it," Northwest coach Diane Rouzee said. "We were a little nervous about the (introduction), the game being on the radio and live-streaming on the internet and the paper here. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was pretty neat.
"Everything that goes on around us with everyone wanting to be a part of the program is a good problem to have. To be honest, the girls probably handle it better than I do."
Northwest (1-0) established itself early, getting off to a 20-6 first-set lead. Later, the Vikings rolled to a 19-3 advantage in the third set.
"I just liked that we got strong starts — that’s something we worked on a lot," Rouzee said. "Plus, I was really glad to see the serving strings and how we were able to run off a lot of points in a row.
"I was really pleased with a lot of other great individual performances, but then again, I see that every day in practice, so I wasn’t surprised."
Senior Erin Sorahan led Northwest with 12 kills and three ace serves, while fellow seniors McKenzie Brown (11 kills) and Katie Placke (eight kills and nine assists) had solid performances. The Vikings enjoyed a 40-10 advantage in kills.
Rouzee said Northwest’s two newcomers to the starting lineup — senior middle hitter Alyssa Martin and senior setter Kenzie Burnham — both played well.
"The rest of the kids have done a good job of helping them learn, being patient with them and calming them down," Rouzee said. "It’s a different group of kids and we’re going to have some things that we’re going to have to work through. We’re not going to be the same team in November that we are right now."
Martin finished with three kills and a block, while Burnham had a match-high 23 assists and an ace in their starting debuts.
"Kenzie was very nervous tonight, but she did a good job," Rouzee said. "She has put in a lot of time and effort because she wanted to improve and she wanted to play a larger part this year. I really proud of her for her serving, her setting and her digging — she’s a different kid from last year."
Crete (0-1) gave Northwest its only challenge in set two. But leading 23-17, Sorahan had a pair of kills to help the Vikings pull away late.
"Crete played a lot more inspired in the second set," Rouzee said. "I think they might have been a little bit intimidated in the first set.
"We also tried some things in the second set. When you win a game 25-8, there’s a situation where you’re going to try and run some trick plays and some combinations. We’re going to be playing some big matches in the next couple of days, so this gave us a chance to try some things in a game situation."
Northwest 3, Crete 0
Crete (0-1) .................................. 8 18 8
Northwest (1-0) ......................... 25 25 25
CRETE (kills-aces-blocks)—Schmidt 0-0-0, Uher 2-0-1, Hollman 0-0-1, Moore 1-0-0, Anthony 1-2-0, Wademan 2-0-1, Combs 0-0-0, Doremus 4-1-0, Fitzgerald 0-0-0. Totals 10-3-3.
NORTHWEST (kills-aces-blocks)—Sorahan 12-3-0, Burnham 0-1-0, Placke 8-0-1, Martin 3-0-1, Brown 11-0-0.5, Keezer 5-1-3.5, An.Carlini 0-2-0, Schleicher 0-0-0, Al.Carlini 0-0-0, Beckmann 0-0-0, Cooksley 0-0-0. Totals 40-7-6.
Set assists—Crete 7 (Anthony 7), Northwest 36 (Burnham 23, Placke 9, Schleicher 3, An.Carlini 1).